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Concerns over lead contamination at Jordan High School in Watts prompts new coalition

Lead poisoning concerns near Jordan High School in Watts 03:37

Educators and community leaders announced a new coalition with the aim to end what they said is a possible lead contamination risk to students at Jordan High School in Watts from a nearby scrapyard.

Jordan High has been in Watts since 1923 and it's neighbor, S&W Atlas Iron and Metal Company, has been there for the last 26 years. 

"Here's where the poison is. Here's where the threat is. This is no longer a misperception," said Tim Watkins, President and CEO of Watts Action Committee. 

Overhead view of the school's softball field and the scrap metal at S&W Atlas Iron and Metal Company.  CBSLA

As students play basketball, mounds of scrap metal sit nearby. Activists said shards of the scrap metal land on the court and noise from the recycling company is so common that it blends into the background. 

School district lab testing revealed dangerous levels of lead and other metals in the softball field and even inside classrooms, lead concentrations of up to 790 micrograms per square foot. Those levels are more than 75 times higher than the Environmental Protection Agency defines as hazardous.

Members of the coalition are convinced the lead has been spreading as a result of the heaps of shredded metals next door. 

"How can there be a metal company right next to a school, in a community that's already impacted by low income," coalition supporter Alan Antonio said. 

Los Unified School District has brought a suit against Atlas in federal court. The City of LA has also sued the recycler. 

For its part, Atlas denies responsibility, stating claims by the district are "factually groundless." 

However, the state's Department of Toxic Substances and Control also found elevated lead and metal in areas around the school. 

"California can not move forward or continue to do it on our backs or to harm us in the process," coalition member Ingrid Rivera-Guzman said. 

Nearly $2.5 million has been spent to test and treat the contamination, which activists said is nothing compared to the price of life.

"We deserve more," Rivera-Guzman said. 

Atlas does have supporters, who said the company has brought jobs and apartments to the community.

Activists and coalition members are adding pressure on mayoral candidates about Atlas, as the election draws near. 

LA City Councilman and mayoral candidate Joe Busciano, who represents Watts, was not present at the Monday event announcing the new coalition.  

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